City Finally Lands Amtrak for Train Station

The city of Niagara Falls held an open house for its new two-story, $43 million train station on Depot Ave. last July, but it did so without a signed lease in hand with Amtrak, the expected major tenant, and the administration of Mayor Paul Dyster has been saying for the last several months that an agreement was coming, much like it said about the Hamister Hotel project for four years before ground was finally broken only recently.
Well, there appears to be good news today on the Amtrak front, finally, and it didn’t take nearly as long as getting Mark Hamister to put a shovel in the ground on Rainbow Blvd. for the much-hyped hotel although it certainly was becoming an issue as a possible drain on the 2017 budget.
On Wednesday, Dyster and Amtrak announced that an agreement had been reached and according to Council President Andy Touma, Amtrak will pay 63 percent of the station’s maintenance costs per year, or $172,800. Dyster’s budget line for the train station for 2017 is $380,486, with an anticipated payment of $173,000 from Amtrak. The agreement would seem to hit the mark.
The operating costs have also been reduced by the City Council, which has eliminated one of three positions in the Dyster budget proposal, a maintenance worker line, that will save about $50,000 when benefits are included in the calculation. The mayor’s train station was built mainly with state and federal funds along with close to $5 million in casino funds.
This newspaper has repeatedly questioned the size of the train station and the expense, given the average of 30 passengers who leave the city every day. Only time will tell if having a new train station will encourage more people to take a train ride–coming or going—and justify the enormous cost of the state-of-the-art facility although local, state, and federal politicians quickly jumped aboard the train on Wednesday, saying it will greatly benefit the region, kind of another savior like the Hamister hotel.
As far as the 20-year lease with Amtrak goes, which hopefully will be aided by other paying tenants still to be recruited, Touma said Wednesday “it seems like a fair lease for residents and I expect it to be approved unanimously at next Monday’s council meeting.” Touma said trains could be running in a few weeks.
Politicians, as expected, praised the deal across the board on Wednesday with newly re-elected Sen. Chuck Schumer saying “the Amtrak station will bring transportation activity and commerce to the region and lay the groundwork for economic and job growth in the short and long term.” Brian Higgins and Louise Slaughter sounded similar notes.
Not to be outdone, Dyster said the state-of-the-art train station “provides the residents of the City of Niagara Falls and Western New York transit-oriented development they deserve and an international gateway to our city that they can be proud of.”
Amtrak will be joined at the station by offices for U. S. Customs and Border Protection, the Underground Railroad Heritage Center and Museum, and eventually, at least hopefully, a commercial tenant.
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